Topic: A history of biscuits
Bourbon biscuits, custard cremes and 'Nice' biscuits were, in fact, all invented by one man - Harold David Trixie, a teacher at Bledlow Boys School, Bucks. Trixie has been forgotten, and his name is destined to remain unfamiliar, but his impact on British confectionary is almost unsurpassed.
Trixie was born in Whistable, Kent. His father, Jonathan, owned a medium-sized and apparently very succesful bakery near the seafront. Little is known about Trixie Baked Goods, and it would have sunk into oblivion were it not for its unfortunate demise. In 1875, the Whitstable Times & Herne Bay Herald reported that a local businessman, Thomas Yeo, had found a frog in his iced bun. As an educated man, Yeo knew his rights, and sbsequently took the Trixies to court. In the years after the Second Reform Act, cases infringing on personal rights in the face of corporations were especially of interest, and fortunately the Whitstable Times reported dilligently on the whole affair.
Even though Yeo lost - the court found that Trixie Baked Goods could not have a legal responsibility to its clients, only to be reversed by the infamous case of Donoghue vs. Stevenson in 1932 - the Trixies had spent their life savings on fighting the adversarial Yeo, and in October of 1876 a small note in the Whitstable Times lamented that Trixie Baked Goods was to be closed down. Harold's parents placed him at Maidstone Grammar School for Boys, paying his fees with the very last of their savings, and Harold's ambitions of one day taking over his father's bakery were dashed.
Little is known about Harold David Trixie as a scholar, but after taking his degree from Royal Holloway, he seems to have settled on teaching as a profession. By 1903 he was a housemaster at King Edward VI School in Nottinghamshire, before accepting a similar post at Bledlow. He stayed at the Buckinghamshire boarding school until his retirement in 1936.
Boarding schools had a reputation for serving students food of what would today consider seriously poor quality. Malnutrition, highlighted by the appalling British losses in the Boer War, was a hot topic at the turn of the century. Since Victorian boarding schools were convinced that sport and exercise were the best ways of encouraging British values of strength, endurance and fair play, many boarding school boys were completely famished of energy. At Bledlow, located in over 30 acres of Buckinghamshire woodland, over a quarter of the timetable was devoted to playing sport. Schoolboys who complained were subjected to the cain. Weakness was not tolerated.
Trixie, who taught history and the classics, was not unsympathetic to the travails of the boys. Having a family of his own, he was perhaps more attuned to the struggle of childhood. As a housemaster of Rhodes (a school house named after Cecil Rhodes, the Victorian explorer), he discreetly began hosting informal 'afternoon tea' sessions, apparently disguising it as a demonstration and practice of good etiquette. Trixie's afternoon tea sessions, hosted in his quarters on Wednesday afternoons (many boarding schools would devote Wednesday 12pm-4pm solely to sports tournaments, a custom which is still alive at British universities today), became very popular with the boys of his house when Trixie began bringing in his own baked goods and biscuits.
According to Trixie, a part of him had "never quite accepted that I would not inherit my father's business". Long after his father's bakery had met its unforunate demise, Harold David Trixie had continued to bake at home for his children. Faced with his starving students, he began baking trays of biscuits for their afternoon tea. Remembering the French-inspired baked goods of the Kentish bakery of his childhood, Trixie used the same 'sandwich' method as his father, where a soft filling is squeezed between a harder outer shell. His chocolate creation was named the 'Bourbon' after the House of Bourbon, a dynasty of French nobles, where his father Jonathan had told young Harold this sandwich method had originated from.
With the extra sugar and fat provided by the biscuits, it was noticed that Harold David Trixie's house had begun to outperform their peers. We now know that glucose is vital to the healthy functioning of the brain, but in the absence of such scientific knowledge, rumour had it that the biscuits had some special ingredient. And, with their fashionable French name, they became all the rage. Trixie recalls "local children assisting me in the now arduous process of transferring the biscuits across the quarter-mile to the school". Every house in Beesmith ate Bourbons, as well as Trixie's latest creations, "Custard Creme" and 'Nice'. According to Trixie, his father had created the custard creme back in the 1860s, using Kentish clotted cream instead.
The whole school and the nearby villages were eating Trixie's biscuits. Rather than trying to face the growing demand himself, Trixie instead helped to train local bakeries in his recipe. They were only too glad to be able to sell such a popular product. When William Emerson, then Headmaster of Beesmith, encouraged Trixie to patent his biscuits, Trixie refused, arguing that "What would life be worth, if we were to obsessively ascribe to everything we hold dear a numerical value, cold and calculating? These biscuits are for all who care to make them".
With the advent of better packaging in the 1920s, many confectionary brands began to enjoy nationwide success. Peek Freans of Bermondsey, London, noticed these unusual biscuits enjoyed by day-labourers who came from Rickmansworth to the city carrying lunchboxes. Being 'good sports', they decided to contact the Bledlow School to ask whether they could reproduce such biscuits, for a fee. When pointed in Trixie's direction, they received the same argument as Emerson - that the biscuits were free to whoever cared to bake them. They began producing Bourbons in 1921, which became an immediate success. However, Peek Freans - the brand was dicontinued in 1989 - decided to honour Trixie's legacy, and proceded without patenting the biscuits. Such a popular product could not fail to be copyrighted, and sure enough copycat 'Bourbons' began appearing all over Britain.
Trixie never made a claim on these riches. He continued his afternoon tea tradition, though school dinners improved markedly during the 1920s, and he still carried a reputation for being a crative amateur baker in Bledlow. Retiring in 1936, he died three years later in July 1939, just before the start of the Second World War. Trixie happened to die on 5th July, Bledlow's annual end-of-year Sports Day. After the races were done, the school gathered to pay their respects to their dear housemaster - with an afternoon tea in his honour. With bourbons, of course.